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Servant of the Servants of God 
for Perpetual Memory 

To the Venerable Brothers, 

the Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops, 

and Beloved Sons, 

the Presbyters, 

Deacons and other Christian Faithful 

of the Eastern Churches 

The Fathers gathered in the seventh ecumenical council in 787 A.D. at 
Nicea. The legates sent by my predecessor, Hadrian I presided. "Rejoicing 
as one who finds much treasure," the Council, in its canonical regulations, 
brought forth the SACRED CANONS and confirmed them, briefly declaring 
them to be those which, according to tradition, came from the sacred 
Apostles, "the six holy and universal Synods and Councils which gathered 
locally" and "from our holy Fathers." 

Certainly the same Council, when it affirmed that the authors of the sacred 
canons, were enlightened "by one and the same Spirit" determined those 
things "which are expedient," and brought those canons as one corpus of 
ecclesiastical law and confirmed it as a "Code" for all of the Eastern 
Churches, as already long ago the Quinisext Synod, gathered in the Trullo 
chamber of the city of Constantinople in 691 A.D. had done by more distinctly 
circumscribing the sphere of their laws in its second canon. 

In such a wondrous variety of rites, that is, in the liturgical, theological, 
spiritual and disciplinary patrimony of the individual Churches, which from 
venerable traditions take their origin from Alexandria, Antioch, Armenia, 
Chaldea and Constantinople, the sacred canons deservedly are considered to 
be clearly a conspicuous part of this same patrimony, which constitutes a 
single and common foundation of canons for ordering all of the Churches. 
Nearly every Eastern collection of disciplinary norms specifically referred to 
and invoked the sacred canons as the principle sources of law. They already 


Xll Apostolic Constitution Sacri Canones 

numbered more than five hundred before the Council of Chalcedon, and they 
were determined or recognized by higher authority as primary law of the 
Church. It was always clear to the individual Churches that any ordering of 
ecclesiastical discipline had strength in those norms, which flowed from 
traditions acknowledged by the supreme authority of the Church or were 
contained in canons promulgated by the same authority, and that the rules of 
particular law have force if in accord with the higher law; however, to be null 
if departing from it. 

"Fidelity to this sacred patrimony of ecclesiastical discipline brings it about 
that, among so many and so great vexations and adversities which the Eastern 
Churches have suffered, whether in antiquity or more recent times, neverthe- 
less the proper countenance of the East is to be observed in its entirety, and 
this indeed happened to take place not without great benefit to souls" (AAS 
66 [1974] 245). The clear words of Paul VI of blessed memory delivered in 
the Sistine Chapel before the first Plenary Assembly of the members of the 
Commission for the Revision of the Code of Eastern Canon Law echo those 
of the Second Vatican Council concerning "the greatest fidelity" which 
decreed that the same disciplinary patrimony be observed by all of the 
Churches, requiring also that "they take pains to return to the ancestral 
traditions," if in certain ones "because of circumstances of times or person- 
ages they have improperly fallen away from them" (OE 6). 

Distinctly there is placed in a clear light by Second Vatican Council that 
especially "a religious fidelity to the ancient traditions" along with "prayers, 
example of life, mutual and better knowledge, collaboration and fraternal 
esteem for objects and attitudes," bring it about that the Eastern Churches 
having full communion with the Apostolic Roman See, fulfill "a special task 
of fostering the unity of all Christians, especially Eastern Christians" (OE 24), 
according to the principles of the decree on ecumenism. 

Nor to be overlooked here is that the Eastern Churches which are not yet 
in full communion with the Catholic Church, are governed by the same and 
fundamentally one patrimony of canonical discipline, that is, "the sacred 
canons" of the Church of the first centuries. 

But what pertains to the universal ecumenical movement, stirred up by the 
Holy Spirit to perfect the unity of the whole Church of Christ, the new Code 
is in no way the least obstacle but rather greatly advances it. For the Code 
guards this fundamental right of the human persons, namely that the faith be 
professed in whatever their rite, for the most part derived by them in their 
mothers' wombs, which is the rule of all ecumenism. Nor is it in any way 

Apostolic Constitution Sacri Canones Xlll 

neglected that the Eastern Catholic Churches, content in the tranquility of 
order desired by the Second Vatican Council, "may flourish and execute with 
a new apostolic vigor the task entrusted to them" (OE 1). Thus it happens 
that it is necessary that the canons of the Code of the Eastern Catholic 
Churches have the same firmness as the laws of the Code of Canon Law of 
the Latin Church; that is, that they be in force until abrogated or changed by 
the supreme authority of the Church for a just cause, of which causes full 
communion of all of the Eastern Churches with the Catholic Church is indeed 
the most serious, besides being especially in accord with the desire of Our 
Savior Jesus Christ himself. 

Nevertheless, the heritage of the sacred canons common to all of the 
Eastern Churches admirably coalesces with the passing of the ages and with 
the character of each and every group of the Christian faithful, from which the 
individual Churches are constituted, and so takes on in the name of Christ and 
his evangelical message their whole culture and not simply of one and the 
same nation. Thus it belongs to the heart of the people, inviolable and most 
worthy of every consideration. 

My predecessor, Leo XIII, at the end of the nineteenth century, declared 
"the legitimately approved variety of Eastern liturgy and discipline" to be "a 
brilliant ornament for all the Church and this variety confirms the divine unity 
of Catholic faith." In considering this variety, he thought nothing "else, 
perchance, to be more admirable for demonstrating the note of Catholicity in 
the Church of God" (Leo XIII, apostolic letter Orientalium dignitas, 30 
November 1894, prooem.). This the fathers of the Second Vatican Council 
also unanimously declared that "this multiplicity of local Churches, united in 
a common effort, shows all the more resplendently the catholicity of the 
undivided Church" (LG 23), and "in no way harms her unity, but rather 
manifests it" (OE 2). 

Keeping all of these things in mind, this Code, which I now promulgate, 
I particularly consider to be from the ancient law of the Eastern Churches, 
and at the same time, I am clearly conscious of the breathing together both 
of unity and diversity. By this coalescence power is brought forth for the life 
of the entire Church, never growing old, and the spouse herself of Christ more 
magnificently stands out. This is foreshadowed in the wisdom of the holy 
Fathers who acknowledged in David's words, "The queen stood at your right 
hand clothedli^old, in multicolored clothing" (Psalm 44; Leo XIII, apostolic 
letter Orientalium dignitas, 30 November 1894, prooem.). 

From the beginning of the codification of the canons of the Eastern 

XIV Apostolic Constitution Sacri Canones 

Churches there was the firm will of the Roman Pontiffs for promulgation of 
two Codes; one for the Latin Church, the other for the Eastern Catholic 
Churches. This would clearly show the observance of that which results in the 
Church by God's Providence - that the Church itself, gathered in the one 
Spirit breathes as though with two lungs - of the East and of the West -- and 
that it burns with the love of Christ in one heart having two ventricles. 

Likewise the constant and firm intent of the supreme legislator in the 
Church is clear concerning the faithful preservation and accurate observance 
of all the Eastern rites, expressed again and again in the proper norms of the 
Code derived from the five traditions already mentioned. 

It is also clear from the various structures of hierarchical constitution of 
the Eastern Churches, among which the patriarchal Churches are preeminent. 
In these Churches the Patriarchs and Synods are by canon law sharers in the 
supreme authority of the Church. By these structures, delineated under their 
own title at the opening of the Code, there is immediately evident both the 
proper countenance of each and every one of the Eastern Churches sanc- 
tioned by canon law and their sui iuris status, and full communion with the 
Roman Pontiff, Successor of St. Peter. Inasmuch as he presides over the 
whole assembly in charity, he guards the lawful variety and at the same time 
guards that that individuality in no way harms the unity, but, rather, serves it 

Furthermore, in this area attention should well be given to all of the things 
committed to the particular law of each of the Churches sui iuris, which are 
not considered necessary for the common good of all of the Eastern Churches. 
Concerning these things, it is my intention that those who enjoy legislative 
power in each of the Churches sui iuris take counsel as quickly as possible by 
issuing particular norms, keeping in mind the traditions of their own rite as 
well as the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. 

The faithful guardianship of the rites ought clearly to be in conformity with 
the supreme end of all law of the Church, an end which is totally placed in the 
economy of salvation of souls. Therefore all things fallen into disuse and 
superfluous in the area of laws previously enacted and less suited for the 
needs of regions or times have not been received into the Code. In establish- 
ing new laws there was to be special consideration for those things which 
really responded better to the demands of the economy of the salvation of 
souls in the rich life of the Eastern Churches and at the same time remained 
coherent and concordant with sound tradition, which was preferred, according 
to the direction of our predecessor, Paul VI, at the beginning of the work of 

Apostolic Constitution Sacri Canones XV 

revising the Code, "that there may appear new norms, not as an extraneous 
body forced into an ecclesiastical composite, but blossoming as though 
spontaneously from already existing norms" (AAS 66 [1974] 246). 

These things become brilliantly clear from the Second Vatican Council, for 
the same Council "brought forth the old and the new from the treasury of 
Tradition" (apostolic constitution Sacrae disciplinae leges, AAS 75 [1983] Part 
II, xii) by handing over into a newness of life that Tradition from the Apostles 
through the Fathers, on all sides integral to the message of the Gospel. 

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches which now comes to light 
must be considered a new complement to the teachings proposed by the 
Second Vatican Council, and by which at last the canonical ordering of the 
entire Church is completed. This is accomplished with the previously issued 
Code of Canon Law of the Latin Church promulgated in 1983 and "The 
Apostolic Constitution concerning the Roman Curia" in 1988, which is added 
to both Codes as the chief instrument of the Roman Pontiff for "the 
communion, which binds together the whole Church" (apostolic constitution 
Pastor Bonus 2). 

But if now I turn my attention to the first steps of the canonical codifica- 
tion of the Eastern Churches, the Code appears as a sought-for harbor of a 
voyage prolonged more than sixty years. For it is a body of law by which all 
of the canons of the ecclesiastical discipline that were common to the Eastern 
Catholic Churches are for the first time gathered together and promulgated 
by the supreme legislator in the Church, after so great and so many labors of 
three Commissions established by the same legislator. The first of these was 
the Commission of Cardinals for the Preparatory Studies of the Eastern 
Codification, established in 1929 by my predecessor, Pius XI {AAS 21 [1929] 
669) with Cardinal Peter Gasparri as president. The members of this 
commission were Cardinals Aloysius Sincero, Bonaventure Ceretti and Francis 
Ehrle, assisted by the secretary, Bishop Amleto John Cicognani, then assessor 
of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Church, as it was called, and later 
a cardinal. 

These preparatory studies, as a matter of fact, were of great importance, 
having been brought to completion in six years by the efforts of two groups 
of experts gathered for the most part from the heads of the Eastern Churches 
(cf. UOsservatore Romano, 2 April 1930, p. 1). With the intervening death of 
Cardinal Peter Gasparri, it seemed good to progress to the constitution of 
"The Pontifical Commission for the Redaction of the «Code of Eastern 
Canon Law»". As the commission's title itself makes clear, it was the task of 

XVI Apostolic Constitution Sacri Canones 

this commission, erected on 17 July 1935, to determine the text of the canons 
and to supervise the composition of "The Code of Eastern Canon Law". It 
must be noted in this regard that the Supreme Pontiff himself determined in 
the announcement of the setting up of the commission, which appeared in the 
official commentary Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS 27 [1935] 306-308) that the 
title of the future Code would be enclosed in quotes to signify that it was 
chosen as the best "until a better title could be found." 

The Presidents of the Commission for Redacting the «Code of Eastern 
Canon Law» were Cardinals Aloysius Sincero, until his death; Maximus 
Massimi; and, after he died, Gregory Peter XV Agagianian, Patriarch of the 
Armenian Church. 

Among the cardinals working along with the president of the first 
commission, namely, Eugenio Pacelli, Julio Serafini and Peter Fumasoni- 
Biondi, the name of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli stands out. By the great 
Providence of God, as Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the entire Church, and 
especially solicitous for the good of the Eastern Churches, he nearly 
completed the whole codification of the Eastern canons. Of the twenty four 
titles of the Code woven together by the aforesaid commission, Pius XII 
promulgated no less than ten, given with greater significance by apostolic 
letters motu proprio (Crebrae allatae sunt, Sollicitudinem Nostram, Postquam 
Apostolicis Mens and Cleri sanctitati). The others, in a text approved at the 
same time by the cardinal members of the commission and for the most part 
printed "for promulgation," by pontifical mandate, but coming during the last 
day of the same Pontificate, as well as at the same time as the announcement 
by John XXIII successor in the chair of St. Peter of the Second Vatican 
Council, remained in the archives of the commission. 

In the course of the years, up to the cessation of the commission in 
mid- 1972, the college of members was indeed increased by pontifical mandate; 
several cardinals put forth their effort, some succeeding others as others died. 
When the Second Vatican Council finally ended in 1965, all the patriarchs of 
the Eastern Catholic Churches were named to the commission. At the 
beginning of the last year of the Commission for the Redaction of the 
^Eastern Code of Canon Law" the college of members consisted of the six 
heads of the Eastern Churches and the prefect of the Congregation for the 
Eastern Churches. Also from the beginning of this Commission for the 
Redaction of the «Code of Eastern Canon Law», and for the longest time 
from then, Father Acacio Coussa, B A., secretary and later cardinal, labored 
with the greatest zeal and wisdom. We remember him here with praise along 
with the distinguished consultors of the commission. 

Apostolic Constitution Sacri Canones XVU 

The constitution and form of the established Pontifical Commission for the 
Revision of the «Code of Eastern Canon Law», coming in mid-1972, 
safeguarded its Eastern character since it consisted of a multiplicity of 
Churches, with the Eastern patriarchs being in the very first place. The work 
of the commission kept in sight the exceptional collegial aspect. For the 
formulation of the canons, gradually worked out by groups of experts chosen 
from all the Churches, was sent to all the bishops of the Eastern Catholic 
Churches before anyone else, so that their opinions could be given collegially 
insofar as possible. Finally, these formulae, repeatedly revised anew in special 
study groups according to the wishes of the bishops, after a diligent examina- 
tion by the members of the commission who repeatedly reconsidered the 
matter if it was warranted, were accepted by unanimous vote in a plenary 
assembly of the members gathered in November of 1988. 

We must admit that this Code is "composed by the Easterners themselves" 
according to the directions given by our predecessor, Paul VI at the solemn 
inauguration of the work of the commission (AAS 66 [1974] 246). Today, as 
generously as possible, I thank those who were participants in this work. 

In the very first place, with a spirit of gratitude I note the name of the 
deceased Cardinal Joseph Parecattil of the Malabar Church who, for nearly 
the whole time except the last three years, meritoriously served as president 
of the commission for the new Code. Along with him I recall in a singular 
manner the deceased Archbishop Clement Ignatius Mansourati of the Syrian 
Church who certainly and to the highest degree fulfilled the office of vice- 
president of the commission in the first and especially arduous years. 

It pleases me also to remember the living, especially my venerable brothers 
Miroslav Stephen Marusyn, now an Archbishop, appointed secretary for the 
Congregation for the Eastern Churches, who for a long time admirably carried 
out the office of vice-president of the commission, and also Bishop Aemilio 
Eid, vice-president today, who brought the work to a most happy outcome. 
After those, I remember the esteemed Ivan Zuzek, a priest member of the 
Society of Jesus, who, as secretary of the commission from the beginning, 
showed determined effort. I remember others who, whether as members, 
patriarchs, cardinals, archbishops and bishops; whether as consultors and 
collaborators in study groups and other tasks, carried out their parts at a high 
price. Next I remember the observers who, on account of the desired unity 
of all Churches, were invited from the Orthodox Churches, and were of great 
help by their very useful presence and collaboration. 

With great hope I trust that this Code will "happily be put into the action 

XVU1 Apostolic Constitution Sacri Canones 

of daily life and that it offer a genuine testimony of reverence and love for 
ecclesiastical law" as was the hope of Paul VI of blessed memory (AAS 66 
[1974] 247), and will establish an order of tranquility in the Eastern Churches, 
so clear in antiquity, which, when I promulgated the Code of Canon Law of 
the Latin Church, I desired with an ardent spirit for the whole ecclesial 
society. It is a question of order which, attributing the principle parts to love, 
to grace, to charism, renders, at the very same time, an ordered progression 
of them easier whether in the life of the ecclesial society or in the life of the 
individuals which belong to it (AAS 75 [1983] Part II, xi). 

"Joy and peace with justice and obedience" also obtain favor for this Code 
and "that whatever is commanded by the head be observed in the body" 
(ibid., xiii), so that by the united strength of all the members, the mission of 
the entire Church may be expanded and the Kingdom of Christ, the 
"Pantokrator", may be more fully established (cf. John Paul II, allocution to 
the Roman Curia, 28 June, 1986, AAS 79 [1987] 196). 

I implore Holy Mary ever Virgin, to whose benevolent watchfulness I 
repeatedly entrusted the preparation of the Code, that she entreat her Son 
with maternal prayer that the Code may become a vehicle of his love which 
was splendidly demonstrated from the heart of Christ pierced by the lance on 
the cross, according to St. John the Apostle, the splendid witness, that it ought 
to be inwardly implemented in the heart of every human creature. 

And thus, having invoked Divine Grace, supported by the authority of the 
Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, looking favorably on the certain knowledge 
and wishes of the patriarchs, archbishops and bishops of the Eastern Churches 
who have collaborated with me in a collegial spirit, and having used the 
fullness of the Apostolic authority with which I am endowed, by this, my 
Constitution, to be in force for the future, I promulgate the present Code as 
it has been arranged and revised, and I order and decree that it obtain the 
force of law for all of the Eastern Catholic Churches. I hand it over to the 
hierarchs of these same Churches to be observed with care and vigilance. 

However, so that all to whom it pertains can have a close examination of 
the prescriptions of this Code before they come into effect, I decree and 
mandate that it begin to have the force of law from 1 October, 1991, the feast 
of the Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary in many of the Eastern 

Nothing whatever to the contrary withstanding, even if worthy of most 
special mention. 

Apostolic Constitution Sacri Canones XIX 

I exhort all of the faithful to carry out these proposed precepts with sincere 
hearts and good will; without doubt there is nothing that will more exception- 
ally serve the Eastern Churches than disciplined care for the souls of the 
Christian faithful, that they may flourish more and more and carry out the 
duty entrusted to them under the patronage of the glorious and blessed Mary 
ever Virgin, who is most truly called "Theotokos" and stands out as the 
exalted Mother of the entire Church. 

Given in Rome at St. Peter's, 18 October, 1990, the 13th of my Pontificate